Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Speaking of Town Center...

From the Department of What We Already Know

The current County Council will not rule on a development plan that aims to turn downtown Columbia into a bustling urban environment with additional shops and homes.

Responding to resident criticism that the development plan is rushed and lacks detail, the county has postponed taking it to the council for approval until February at the earliest, when the group will have five new members after the November elections.

…A new schedule sets out two options. In one scenario, the Planning Board would hear the plan in early October, and the council would vote on it in February. The second option has the Planning Board hearing the proposal in early February, with the council ruling on it in June.
That’s June of 2007, mind you. Almost two years after the charrette – the foundation upon which this plan should be built – took place. The more distant the voice, the softer it becomes.

I know there are a lot of details that need to be worked out. I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine with is the growing disconnect between the plan and the hundreds of folks whose input was supposed to shape it.

The Master Plan Focus Group is supposed to be representative of the participants in the charrette. Representative how, though? In demographics? View points? In level of commitment to Columbia?

If the ostensible purpose of the master plan was to allow citizens to take control of their future, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a focus group – the group that now, for better or worse, controls the fate of the plan – that is representative of all Columbians and not just those for whom DPZ collected demographic data at the charrette?

That the youngest member of the focus group is – I’m told – in their late 30s speaks volumes about its structure and the likely outcome of its work (since meetings are scheduled during the workday, I have trouble attending). I’m well aware that the number of 30-year-olds who attended the charrette is dwarfed by the number of 50-year-olds, but I would argue that makes it even more important for there to be at least one young voice in the group. Certainly, Evan Coren, who has attended every focus group meeting, is doing his part, albeit from the peanut gallery.

I don’t want to turn this into some big thing. I just wanted to highlight that we’re now talking about a fundamentally different process than we had before, a process that is being directed by an oligarchy and not the citizens. Granted, the citizen-driven component was more republican than democratic, but that was as it should be.

This hasn’t been fully thought out. I’ve got Warm Muffin on the brain.

UPDATE: In my obsession with Columbia and age, I realized, with the help of a reader, that in addition to young voices (or a young voice) we should have more Howard County voices. I know there are at least a few non-Columbia people on there, but the discussion is so tighly focused location-wise that it could benefit from more and broader perspectives. Maybe it's time to do another charrette? Who knows, we've certainly learned a lot over the last six months.

Also, I added a link to Evan's blog. I meant to do so, but the smell of Warm Muffin distracted me. Now, I really have to go.


Evan said...

You make some excellent points. Best of luck with Warm Muffin and thanks for the shout out. I will keep speaking up from the peanut gallery. Those who know me from growing up in the county know that I am very persistent. I am in this fight for the long haul, since I plan to be here in the county living with the consequences of these decisions for the next 50 years.

joshua feldmark said...

Agreed that you make excellent points - let me also point out that the focus group also lacks racial diversity.